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ATD Blog

NewGen Learning Designers

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A new generation (NewGen) of learning designers has entered the ring. But surprisingly, they are not who you might think. These NewGen learning architects are actually engineers, physicians, musicians, apprenticeship instructors, or anyone who has a need to produce successful learning experiences to support their work. Creating courses is an adjunct skill for them, and many wouldn’t even think of themselves as learning designers. They simply want to share their knowledge more effectively.

The term NewGen reflects the fact that these innovative designers are a new segment of the instructional system design (ISD) family. Much like they view improving writing skills or learning new software as a value-added career enhancement, they aim to improve their professional skills and increase their ability to share their skills and knowledge, not to become full-time instructional designers.

For NewGens, the journey to creating these innovative learning design proficiencies is enhanced when they realize they already possess the foundational skills necessary to design professional-level courses. They simply learn new terminology and best practices to complement their existing teaching and design instincts, which are then easily migrated to the science of learning. Studying topics like objectives, lesson design, and evaluations supports building the necessary skills to design learning.

One of the milestone features of the NewGen phenomenon is that organizations are creating courses in ISD within already established training, certification, and degree programs that previously provided no exposure to learning design. The shift to considering ISD knowledge necessary in seemingly unrelated fields brings home the point that a well-rounded professional needs to be able to teach, train, mentor, and facilitate—to competently share their knowledge with others.

As an example, some graduate and PhD programs now include a single course in learning design to ensure that students graduate with the ability to share their knowledge in a professional way. The PhD and master’s degree programs in palliative care at the University of Maryland Baltimore, under the leadership of Dr. Lynn McPherson, all include one course in ISD. These MDs, PharmDs, PAs, and other healthcare professionals are learning to design formal and informal learning experiences to use in their day-to-day work.


Some applications of learning design for the palliative care students are centered on their need to communicate with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. Creating a short course on bedside challenges for physicians, or an overview of the role of palliative care for patients and family members, can have exponentially more impact if it is designed purposefully using ISD.

And, this integration of ISD into other fields is not just occurring in higher education. The International Masonry Institute, in its Instructor Certification Program, requires that each apprenticeship instructor learn ISD basics and design new courses to professional standards. This has opened the door for thousands of new courses, built on ISD concepts once thought the exclusive domain of more formal certifications or degrees, to be placed into apprenticeship programs.


Another way to integrate these learning design skills is to include them in train-the-trainer and other facilitator skill-enhancement offerings. Organizations are finding that training on how learning takes place supports a more well-rounded instructor corps. Even a short overview of ISD basics, like objectives and evaluation, can improve how someone teaches.

Even more exciting for the established ranks of learning designers, we are experiencing increased acceptance and appreciation for our work as a result of NewGen designers thinking about learning design in a new way. This new appreciation of ISD is also improving awareness of the importance of our field.

NewGens are also creating a renewed interest in certifications and academic programs in ISD. Practical experience in creating courses often sparks an interest in the more nuanced aspects of cognition, learning populations, and all aspects of the science of ISD. That spark of interest, fueled by successful course design experience, leads many NewGens to endorse the practice of professional learning design to others.

For the established ISD community, this is welcome news, and we should embrace NewGen designers at every opportunity. The learning design landscape is prospering from this new interest and energy. The future of learning has never been more exciting with the addition of our NewGen design partners.

About the Author

Chuck Hodell has been writing, practicing, and teaching instructional systems design for many years. His books and articles have earned him the title of "The Man Who Wrote the Book on ISD." His bestselling four editions of ISD From the Ground Up and his SMEs From the Ground Up books are used internationally both in academic settings and in the practice of instructional design. He is also the author of many ATD Infolines, TD magazine articles, Best on ISD and is an ASTD Handbook contributor. He has appeared in ATD videos and participated in numerous online and ATD international conferences, including teaching preconference programs in ISD.
Hodell has designed thousands of training programs for the White House, major corporations, nonprofits, numerous apprenticeship programs as well as assisting clients in Egypt, Africa, Europe, and other locations around the world.
He presently serves as affiliate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and associate director and faculty of the Learning and Performance Technology master's program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Hodell served as deputy provost at the National Labor College and has held faculty positions at Antioch University and other institutions. He presently serves as the academic advisor for the Instructor Certification Program at the International Masonry Training and Education Foundation.
Hodell holds a PhD in language, literacy and culture from UMBC, a master’s degree in ISD from UMBC, and an undergraduate degree from Antioch University.

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Great insight, indeed! Thank you for sharing.
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What an insightful piece! Dr. Chuck Hodell's perspective on the emergence of NewGen designers highlights the evolving landscape of learning design. It's inspiring to see professionals from diverse backgrounds embracing ISD skills to enhance their work and share knowledge more effectively. Integrating ISD into fields like healthcare and apprenticeship programs enriches learning experiences and underscores the importance of a well-rounded professional skill set.
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